Sexual Violence: On Staying Silent
Written by: Crystle Lampitt
I never saw myself as an activist— much less an advocate for sexual assault survivors. A feminist, absolutely. But, labels can do a great job of obscuring any group's true message, so I've settled for silence for a long time. Besides, why would anyone listen to me? I'm just a young, idealistic, local TV host, trying to meet my deadlines and pay my bills. I'm supposed to tell stories, not be a story. But I am a woman, and I have a voice.
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the Bill O'Reilly accusations, I have spent these last weeks reading dozens of heart-wrenching stories from women who are brave enough to share their experiences. I started to feel a nagging responsibility to join the conversation— not because I want people to know the intimate details of my life, but because I know a lot of women who are just like me. I want something good to come out of the bad, and if that means sharing parts of my story so that others can learn and heal from my experience, I’ll add my voice to the chorus.
I tried to think about how to talk about sexual assault and harassment without putting my parents through the pain of knowing that their daughter had experienced so much of it. Where would I start? At age 10 when a man at the mall cornered me and tried to grab me? At age 21, modeling in Hong Kong, when a photographer asked me to take my clothes off, lay down, and put my feet in the air so he could touch them? Maybe I would tell them about my male "friend" who cornered me inside a party's photo booth, grabbed me by my you-know-what, managed to bypass my dress shorts, and jam his fingers inside of me before I was able to push him off of me. Or I could just detail the more recent incidents of men groping my butt and my breasts as I walked down Westport Road, out with friends and accompanied by a male escort. My family already knows about the individual who shot an up-skirt video of me while I shopped for dog food at Target, because it went up on YouTube as "Crystle Lampitt Upskirt." Not that it matters, but I was wearing a knee-length sundress and had my boyfriend at the time standing right next to me.
These are just a few of the tamer incidents that I feel comfortable sharing, but you get the idea. I am lucky to have come away mostly unscathed physically, but the lingering feelings of confusion, disgust, distrust, and shame remain. Knowing that there are predatory men out there, especially ones that I could have reported to police or could have tried to harder to track down, but didn’t, has followed me like a shadow.
For a long time, I was able to dismiss many of my experiences as crazy isolated incidents, especially if they occurred when I was living overseas in third world countries. But the truth is, they are not isolated incidents. They happen in the townships of South Africa, in the remote villages of Indonesia, in the rosy suburbs of Sydney, and in our beloved Kansas City-- sometimes in our own homes. And the truth is, there is no nice way to talk about this. Your heart will ache every time another female comes forward with her story, every time she is grilled about what she was wearing, and every time she is questioned about the veracity of the incidents that took place.
Most women do not gain anything by reporting sexual violence. Are there some who are seeking financial gain or attention by making false accusations? Maybe. The FBI puts the rate of false rape allegations at about 2%. If you knew that pressing charges against a sexual predator would invite the the parties involved (and possibly the public) to scrutinize your sexual history and to question your character, would you still report? If you knew that the vast majority of rapists walk away without jail time, would you still pursue legal action? A woman taking a stand is risking her career, her reputation, her finances, and her safety. No wonder so many stay silent. I cannot put into words the amount of respect and admiration I have for women who choose to press charges.
For those of us who have chosen not to move forward with legal action, I want to tell you: I understand. The shame, the guilt, the wondering if he'll do the same thing to someone else— it’s hard. Maybe you never saw your attacker or couldn't track him down, maybe he was a family member and you didn't want to bring shame to the family name, or maybe he was a boyfriend, and you felt that you didn't have enough evidence. I have a multitude of reasons for not reporting my own experiences, a few of those being that I wanted to preserve my sanity, and I wanted to protect my identity as a perky morning news personality with a perfectly sunny social media feed. As long as I maintained a safe distance from my attackers, they couldn't get to me right?
Suffice it to say, the #MeToo social media campaign hit me hard. Suddenly my feed was filled with other perfectly professional, kind, hard-working women sharing their rawest moments. I just wanted to look at pictures of puppies and food, but the details I had tried so hard to ignore over the years came back in the form of nightmares, insomnia, flashbacks, and random bouts of weeping. My wonderfully oblivious world was cracking. It's a beautiful thing, really.
In these moments, I try to focus on what I can control, and what I have learned. I tend to believe that things happen for a reason, but what on earth could I draw from these experiences? That I should never leave the house? In a desperate bid to not identify as a victim, I’ve taken stock of my role in each and every nonconsensual event. Was I not clear that I did not want to be touched? Did I “tempt” a man with my modest clothing choices? Was I in a bad part of town? Could I have predicted that a fashion photographer would have taken advantage of his position of authority as soon as we were in the studio alone? The answer to these questions is a resounding NO. But can I say I’ve learned a few things about myself and my interaction with the world? Yes. I left modeling full-time and only accept the occasional job now, as I found the industry overseas to be rife with predatory men who expected me to “get to know them” to get ahead. I’ve learned that when I need to go onstage now to emcee an event I feel better wearing pants or a floor-length gown. When I go to the store and a man is standing near me, I check his grocery basket to make sure his phone is not sitting inside it with the camera recording.
Also, 99% of the time these things don’t happen at all.
Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned is that whatever you choose to do with your story, you don’t owe anything to anyone. How you choose to move forward is up to you.
Some days I still feel discouraged and victimized, most days I feel strong and lucky for getting out of a number of terrifying situations. I can't change what I've experienced, and I don't believe many of the grotesque details are important. But I can own my story, and share my words. I can stand with other women in solidarity and offer up a listening ear. I can talk to the men in my life about rape culture and the objectification of women, and why it’s dangerous to mindlessly view women as the sum of her sexual body parts. I can shed light on an insidious problem and do my best to share my ideals in hopes that we might one day live in a world where women feel safe and respected.
Some women will never share their stories, they will never press charges, and they will suffer in silence. To them I say: I don't blame you. Culturally, there is shame in sharing and there is shame in not sharing. I’m not saying it’s right— and I hope we are removing the stigma associated with sexual violence by talking about it. But know that you have every right to protect yourself. You are not responsible for another person's actions. Instead of beating yourself up for not nabbing the guy, accept where you are in your journey and have pride in your ability to move forward.
For those who are still in abusive situations, know that you are not alone, and the strength to remove yourself from your current circumstance is in there. Decide what your breaking point is. I hope you will reach out for help before then.
For the women slogging through treacherously long and tedious court appearances and questioning, we believe you. We are with you.
For the men who are making a difference, and being amazing role models to your sons and daughters, thank you.
Crystle Lampitt is a TV Host, Executive Producer, foodie, world-traveler, dog-lover, a yoga and wellness junkie, and a recovering perfectionist.
Connect with Crystle @CrystleLampitt on Twitter and Instagram, and on Facebook.